GC 2018–Does Anyone Care?

March 12th, 2018

At a clergy luncheon today, I asked my colleagues what the issues were for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church that is having its triennial meeting this summer. My question was met with blank stares and a quick change of the topic.

Given the vast amounts of money spent on air fares, hotels, and meals for the Convention (16 delegates and alternates plus three bishops and staff just from the Diocese of New York alone), one would hope that the meeting would consider topics of importance to the Church. There will be some debate about liturgical revision, I know, and I’m sure there will be many political resolutions.

But it will be interesting to see if anything substantive is done to try to address the continuing decline in membership in the Church (and the resulting diminution in income and closing of churches.)

Outreach usually means service in our church. That’s to the good. But a shot of evangelism would be timely as well. —J. Douglas Ousley

Happening Now

February 28th, 2018

A member of our parish recently arranged for my associate and me to be trained in the use of Instagram.

The wildly popular social media app features photos that provide a visual entry into one’s personal “story”–or, in the case of Incarnation, into our parish life. Ideally we should not only post photos of past events but should report on events that are about to happen or are happening.

Our tutor, a social media expert at a top PR boutique firm, remarked that she often checked her Instagram account in the evening to see if there was anything interesting happening. If some post caught her eye, she would drop everything and follow the Instagram lead.

This is clearly a different culture from that of the Church, whose life is carefully planned and whose year of holy days is set for centuries in advance. All the more reason we need to maintain a sense of how we are being led by God in what theologians call, “the Eternal Now.” —J. Douglas Ousley

Line Fishing

February 13th, 2018

I’m not a fisherman, but I understand that there are two kinds of fishing: net fishing and line fishing.

According to the Dean of the General Theological Seminary, who recently gave a talk to a clergy group I’m a member of, our Episcopal Church does evangelism on the analogy of line fishing. That is, we don’t sweep in large quantities of converts as though we were fishing with a net. Instead, we hook people in, one-by-one.

This accords with my own experience of the church in Manhattan, where people come from such diverse backgrounds that you have to offer many different ways to introduce unbelievers to the way of Jesus Christ. Moreover, our denomination has a substantial intellectual and aesthetic component that has to be grasped over time, with each seeker proceeding at his or her own pace.

All this makes church growth come irregularly, in fits and starts. But it also means that new believers value what they have come to hold in their minds and hearts. —J. Douglas Ousley


February 7th, 2018

I will go to considerable lengths to avoid controversy. I recognize, though, that many people thrive on conflict.

Particularly in the political realm, you find men and women who love to make outrageous statements. On both the left and the right, there are lots of activists who seem to enjoy notoriety.

They even look with pride upon the antagonism their positions generate. They see themselves as “prophets”–in the biblical phrase, “speaking truth to power.”

However, in many cases, this posture smells of cheap grace: “If I’m hated, I must be doing God’s will.” Jesus was certainly not afraid to speak truth to power; his teaching got him crucified. But reveling in controversy doesn’t in itself help others to do the right thing politically. Popularity isn’t an end in itself, but neither is unpopularity.

What matters is speaking the truth as we know it in such a way that others see that truth. In that way, the Truth makes us all free. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Book Challenge

February 2nd, 2018

Incarnation members have been challenged this Lent to read or re-read C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. This witty, clever, and spiritually wise book is one of Lewis’s most popular writings; it has sold millions of copies.

I have re-read and dipped into the book several times over the years. Returning to my copy recently, I was surprised to note from the flyleaf of the book that I first encountered the book when I was twelve years old! I believe it was a gift from a favorite uncle.

In any case, it is a testament to Lewis that the book still reads as fresh and as provocative as if I were opening it for the first time. There is an insight to ponder on virtually every page and yet it proceeds smoothly like the fiction it technically is.

Whether you are a member of Incarnation or not, think about reading The Screwtape Letters this Lent. —J. Douglas Ousley

Money Matters

January 26th, 2018

As our Stewardship 2018 campaign winds down, parishioners have their final opportunity to think about what they plan to give to our church this year.

While I tend myself to be pretty traditional, striving for a tithe (10%) or more of my salary, I recognize that there are many ways to look at stewardship. The Spirit of God moves people in different ways.

That said, I also recognize that many of my colleagues are much more doctrinaire about tithing. They believe that God has high expectations of all of us. To them, the signed pledge card and proportional giving should be the norm.

However we think of these issues ourselves, there is no doubt that in the realm of the Spirit, money matters. —J. Douglas Ousley

Talking Points

January 17th, 2018

At the Annual Meeting of the Parish on Sunday, I expressed a wish that the Church–specifically, our parish–could provide a safe place where Christians with strong conflicting opinions about politics might discuss their differences.

At least three parishioners have left Incarnation because they were uncomfortable with the liberal political stances of the national Episcopal Church. In each case, I urged them to stick around, assuring them that our parish includes conservatives as well as liberals. But they still felt they couldn’t remain at Incarnation.

As we see even North and South Koreans to be talking to each other, is it too much to hope that Episcopalian Christians could find enough in common that they could put their differences aside long enough to talk to each other?  —J. Douglas Ousley

Words and Bits

January 10th, 2018

By coincidence, I preached on Sunday about the power and the burden of all the words in our culture. The next day, I heard a fascinating talk given to the Men’s Group by a banker about bitcoins.

While words and bits are vastly different, they are similar in that they are our major means of communication. Furthermore, they are now conveyed electronically in ways our pre-computer forebears would never have imagined.

Bitcoin was originally conceived as a fraud-proof way of exchanging money; it’s now of course a focus of speculation and likely money-laundering. And of course many of the abusers in the news got in trouble through what they said.

All the more reason to seek honesty in our speech and in the use of our computers. Only then will the truth make us free. —J. Douglas Ousley

Ringing in the New

January 2nd, 2018

Last week, the Wall Street Journal carried three pieces that gave advice on making New Year’s resolutions. Most of the advice was common sensical; for example, if you make your vows public, you’re more likely to keep them.

Many of the ideas presented are applicable to spiritual resolutions. For instance, making manageable vows in the first place–like a reasonable amount of daily prayer–will allow one to keep them.

Also pertinent to both secular and religious life is the difficulty of governing our unruly inner lives. Whatever we decide to do for the sake of body and soul, the word, “resolution” is key. We need to resolve that we will change! —J. Douglas Ousley

In the Himalayas

December 27th, 2017

Therapists refer to the holiday season as “the Himalayas.”

That is because so many of their patients encounter extreme “ups and downs” during this season. They may be positively moved one moment by the cheerful spirit of Christmas and the hopes of a new year–only to be plunged into depression as they recall the political and social conflicts of the past year.

There’s not much that can be done about these ups and downs. They come with the territory.

But we can still remember the reason for the season. If we happen to fall into a bad mood, we can remember that Christ is still incarnate in his church, and he still brings light to a dark world. Whatever we feel at the moment, we can always turn to him. —J. Douglas Ousley